Archive for January 2008

The SUV on your plate

We all know that driving contributes to global warming, but so do many of our other activities. So let’s talk about something we do every day — eat.

Start by thinking about where your last meal came from. No, not where you bought the food, but where did each ingredient in your meal actually come from?

Across the state? Across the country? Across the globe?

If you’re like most people, you probably have no idea. But it is estimated that the average American meal travels about 1500 miles to get from farm to plate. In his book Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, author Bill McKibben says that 75 percent of the apples sold in New York City come from the West Coast or overseas. These food miles clocked as food is shipped around the nation and world mean large amounts of CO2 — a major contributor to climate change — is released into the air.

But food doesn't have to start from far away to clock high food miles. Food grown in your home state can still travel huge distances. It isn’t unusual for food to even be shipped out of the state for processing and storage, before being shipped back in to be sold at local supermarkets.

However, to complicate the issue even more, simply looking at food miles doesn’t tell the whole story of how much energy was used to make that cheeseburger on your plate. You also have to think about the fertilizers and pesticides used in growing crops, the tractors and other equipment used on farms, the machines and products that go into the processing and packaging, the means of transportation, the cooking method – all require the use of fossil fuels.

And since we’re talking about cheeseburgers, it’s a good time to mention that the fossil fuels used to get a burger onto your plate are greater than most other meals. A UN report found that raising cattle generates more global warming greenhouse gases, as measured in CO2 equivalent, than transportation. That’s because, along with CO2, livestock also produce lots of nitrous oxide and methane, even more harmful greenhouse gases.

With such large emissions resulting from the livestock sector, cutting back on meat becomes one of the simplest things a person can do to reduce their carbon footprint. An interesting University of Chicago study found that the greenhouse gas emissions of meat-eating and vegetarian diets vary by as much as the difference between owning an average sedan versus an SUV.

So a climate-conscious consumer not only has to think about where their food comes from and how it was grown, produced and packaged, but also what they’re eating.

Just some food for thought…

This week in climate change: Strategies from around the world

Although National Public Health Week focuses primarily on helping Americans make the connection between climate change and health, it’s important to remember that climate change is a global issue. News from this week highlights some of the efforts going on around the world.

Among the news stories on approaches to climate change reported recently via APHA's National Public Health Week News Twitter are these headlines:

This week in climate change: Reports on the effects of climate change

Amidst news of how lifestyle changes can curb climate change and stories of car manufacturers looking for alternative energy sources, much of this week’s news focused on new reports of the current and potential outcomes of climate change. From rising seas to infectious disease, more and more scientific reports are demonstrating the alarming effects of global warming.

Among the news stories on the effects of climate change reported recently via APHA's National Public Health Week News Twitter are these headlines:

Me, myself and I: Bringing global warming down to size

How do we get people to care about climate change and global warming? The answer may be simpler than you might think. Here’s a clue: What do Americans care deeply about?

Sure, this month Americans are telling the pollsters that they care deeply about the economy, and they do. But Americans consistently tell the pollsters (and any of the rest of us who care to ask) — year in and year out — that they care even more deeply about their health. And they REALLY care about their children’s health, their grandchildren’s health, and the health of anyone and everyone else that they love or care about. Americans care about health, period.

And yet what comes to mind when people think about global warming? Hint: It’s not our health.

Anthony Leiserowitz — one of the nation’s leading experts on this topic has published the answer. His data show that when most Americans think about global warming, what first comes to mind are environmental images — like melting glaciers, endangered polar bears or shrinking polar ice caps. People’s mental imagery of global warming is of inanimate objects and wild animals that, for the most part, exist or live far, far away from us. Some of us care deeply about these far away creatures and landscapes, but most of us don’t.
We care deeply about people. And we care deeply about health. But most of us haven’t yet made the connection between global warming and people, and the connection between global warming and human health. So it should be no mystery as to why most of us don’t yet care deeply about global warming.

Our job as public health professionals is to help people make that connection. We need to help people see that global warming is indeed a threat to our health, and even more so to our children’s and grandchildren’s health. And we need to help people see that global warming is even more of a threat to the health and well-being of the poorest people in this country, and in this world, because they have the fewest defenses to protect themselves from the threat.

Global warming is about us. If we can tell that story through National Public Health Week and the World Health Organization’s Global Health Day, we will be helping Americans to care deeply about this profound threat to the public’s health.

- Edward Maibach, PhD, MPH2008 National Public Health Week Advisory Committee member and director of George Mason University’s Center of Excellence in Climate Change Communication Research

The medical effects of climate change: Do physicians know?

While climate change is a problem with vast implications for human well-being, the medical impact of climate change has received limited attention from physicians or the medical care system. There has been minimal coverage of the health effects of climate change in either the media or the clinical literature. Thus, it is likely that most doctors are not familiar with the health consequences of climate change. But they should be.

Medical scientists of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have reported that conditions known to be attributed to climate change include heat-related cardiovascular events, worsening of asthma and chronic pulmonary disease, outbreaks of vector borne and waterborne infectious diseases, injuries from extreme weather events and the mental problems that result from catastrophic events. At this time, these effects are not on the radar screen of many practitioners of medicine. And if they are, they are not perceived as a threat to residents of the United States.

Physicians are not aware of what to expect as the climate changes. While it is difficult to predict the exact nature or the extent of medical effects from climate change, specific types of outcomes — like those mentioned above — are predictable. Models developed by the IPCC scientists have accurately predicted increases in vector borne diseases in the countries of Central America. Vulnerability is increased if people are not aware of and prepared for the conditions we are likely to face.

Clearly awareness by medical professionals is needed so we may rise to meet the health challenges of climate change. Physicians must be prepared to advise their vulnerable patients of the dangers they may face, and be ready to recognize and treat conditions that will develop when flooding, drought and/or heat bring increased cardiac stress, deterioration of air quality, or vector borne and waterborne infectious diseases. Physicians must be knowledgeable so they report the medical conditions that are critical to public health surveillance systems. It will be more difficult for health and public health systems to respond to climate-related health effects if surveillance is ineffective.

The infrastructure for health and public health communication should be utilized now to disseminate this information and strengthened to prepare the medical care system for future challenges.

-Mona Sarfaty, MD, FAAFP, CPH
2008 National Public Health Week Advisory Committee member and research assistant professor, Thomas Jefferson University, Jefferson Medical College

This week in climate change: Strategies for change

Starting the new year off on a positive foot, several recent news stories have reported on various approaches to mitigate climate change. All over the world, governments, industries, communities and individuals are looking for strategies to help make the world greener.

Among the news stories on new ideas and strategies to mitigate climate change reported recently via APHA's National Public Health Week News Twitter are these headlines:

Beyond the “Truth”

“An Inconvenient Truth” may be the most famous movie about climate change — and Al Gore may be the movement’s most recognizable face — but they’re only the tip of the (slowly melting) iceberg. There are so many books, movies, DVDs, TV shows, magazines and resources that touch on the problem of climate change, you could keep yourself busy until the world finally agrees on how to address the mounting problem — and that could take a while.

No kidding

Children are the future — and that future will be shaped, in part, by climate change. Here are a couple of fun resources to bring our little ones into the climate change discussion.

— The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency created a Climate Change Kids Site that shows a six-scene animated movie on the topic, including scenes about greenhouse gases, solar rays and deforestation. Kids can pick which scenes they’re interested in and after they’re done, take a global warming quiz.

— Perhaps the cutest climate change movie out there, the animated “Arctic Tale” (narrated by Queen Latifah), follows the journey of a walrus and polar bear cub across the frozen Arctic, which was once their thriving home but is now slowly melting from underneath them.

Seeing is believing

The magic of Hollywood won’t stop climate change, but it can help show us why to care and what to do.

There’s “The 11th Hour,” narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio; NOVA’s “Saved by the Sun: Is It Time to Take Solar Energy Seriously”; PBS’ “Global Warming: The Signs and the Science”; National Geographic’s “Masters of the Arctic Ice,” which chronicles the impact of climate change on the creatures of the Arctic; and PBS’ “e2” series on the economies of being environmentally conscious.

Book ‘em

Rather read than watch TV? Then you’re in luck — a quick search on Amazon using the term “global warming” brings up hundreds of options. A couple noteworthy suggestions: The Weather Makers: How Man Is Changing the Climate and What It Means for Life on Earth and Time magazine’s special issue on “Global Warming — The Causes, The Perils, The Solutions, The Actions: What You Can Do.” There’s even a Complete Idiot’s Guide to Global Warming.

For more reading recommendations, visit the American Institute of Physics or the Environmental Literacy Council.

If we’ve missed one of your favorite picks, submit a comment and let us know about it.